When Friends Fight in Fiction

Luffy vs Sanji

So, I’ve been reading a lot of manga and watching a lot of anime over the last year.  I also watched a bunch of a movies and TV shows.  One thing seemed to show up a lot and that was a plot or scene where friends fight.  I saw it was Luffy vs Sanji in One Piece, Meliodus vs Ban in Seven Deadly Sins, Superman vs the Justice League, and the list keeps going on as long as the story was action-based.  Even those that weren’t had at least a yelling match between friends.  So, why does this keep happening?

All I can do is look at my own stories and see if I’ve done it, which had me running through Legends of Windemere.  Luke Callindor and Nyx fought during their first encounter, but I don’t remember any real throw down among the champions.  Maybe it’s been so long that I forgot, which is possible.  For some reason, I seem to always want to through body switching or mind control into the scenario.  This removes a lot of the real tension and weight of the fight because at least one combatant isn’t in their right state of mind.  I know some much later books on my ‘to write’ list will have some feuding friends that tests the relationship, but I don’t think I really tried this yet.

I might have answered my own question too.  These types of fights result in a massive test of the relationship.  Instead of a simple debate or disagreement, two established friends have decided to come to blows.  In some stories, this is explained as men only being able to settle differences with their fists.  This gets used even if one or both of the men are actually women.  It works off the personality type that needs to either give or receive a thrashing to see clearly, which isn’t that common a thing in reality.  At least, it isn’t one that can legally settle problems the way they want to.  For this, you really need to establish the right culture, world, and characters for it to work.  Beyond that, you have friends who have come to a major impasse and lose their tempers.  Some fights can be for one of their own good to stop them from making a mistake and others are to see who will get their way, but the result is always a change.  Real people and characters don’t get into a slugfest and stay the same.

Change is an important part of this event too.  It can show how the two characters have changed in a way that they are not as compatible as they once were.  A fight may be the catalyst for a new stage of growth between them too.  As weird as it sounds, they might need that release to get over a hill that would erode the entire story.  Much of this depends on personality and the stress put on the characters over the course of the journey.  If you have one becoming cynical and the other staying optimistic then you can see an easy source of conflict.  A fight could result in one finding more positivity in the world and the other seeing that there is more darkness out there than they realized.  This still borders on being something that only happens in fiction, but it’s been done a lot as a method of character development.

Personally, I think you need a long build up for this type of scene to work.  It has to be done in stages if you want a good emotional payoff:

  1. You need to establish the relationship as something solid and deep.  Having casual acquaintances get into a fight lacks the same weight as best friends.  An example that will get me in some trouble is Iron Man and Captain America.  In the comics, they had been friends for years with a lot of established history.  So, the Civil War story line in the comics had a lot of emotional impact because they were truly close friends that decided to resort to violence against each other.  In the movies, (at least to me) they never really hit that note with them butting heads in Avengers 1, actually battling in Avengers 2, and then the big war.  Forgetting the opinions on why I could be wrong here, I think an issue is that there wasn’t enough time put into establishing a truly solid bond between the characters.
  2. Gradually build up the issue that will cause the conflict.  Don’t drop something into the mix and then have them begin fighting.  That will seem out of character because they were tight only moments before.  Have them voice differing opinions to each other or secondary characters.  Give them some solo time where they make decisions that will feed into the looming conflict.  As time goes on, make it clear that there is one thing that these friends will disagree on.  This way, the actual event feels like an inevitable point of the story.
  3. Do not go overboard if you want to maintain the relationship.  There are some things that you cannot come back from.  We’re mostly talking about friends fighting and then staying friends here too.  Not one going villain and the other staying hero.  You need to make sure the issue is not so big that they can never go back to being friends even if it’s not as strong a bond.  It can even come from a third party who manages to snap them back to their senses.  Helps to do some research into previous uses of the plot ‘twist’ or consider your own friendships.  Talk to your best friend about what would happen if you two were in the situation and you might find an answer to this part.

As I start working towards War of Nytefall: Rivalry, which has a version of this, I’m curious to know what people think of this topic.  Have you ever written a fighting friends scene?  Do you think this always has to end in the death of a friendship or can it be done without sacrificing the entire relationship?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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32 Responses to When Friends Fight in Fiction

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great topic! I think of Charles and Erik in X-Men. They were friends.
    The only scenes I’ve written are arguments between friends, rather than fist fights. But I understand what you mean about the Civil War. Their relationship didn’t seem that strong to warrant such an emotional battle.

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  2. twixie13 says:

    I’ve had a fight crop up between two best friends at some point. It happened when they were in high school…one of them had started dating the other’s sister. That in and of itself wasn’t an issue…hell, her brother was happy that she ended up with someone very much NOT like their abusive father, and there was the plus side of not having to go through that potentially awkward stage of having to get to know the boyfriend. It wasn’t the fact that said boyfriend had also managed to get an internship he’d wanted. No, that part was awesome. It was more that he’d had a date set up with his girlfriend…which he completely spaced on upon finding out that he’d 1) gotten the internship and 2) been expected to start it ASAP. She thought that maybe he’d lost interest, her very protective older brother with some slight anger issues got angry with him for (inadvertently, but still) hurting her, and they weren’t on speaking terms for a while. They did eventually make up with each other and are just as close as ever as adults.

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  3. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Great topic today, and I can see some uses for it. The closest I’ve come is between Lizzie and the hat. Those were all arguments though. Hard to come to blows with a hat, unless it becomes “Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?…”

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  4. Doomroar says:

    Luffy vs Usopp is a better example, in there both are angry at each other and have opposing views on an a topic of extreme importance, and go and attack each other, however in Luffy vs Sanji the only one with a problem is Sanji, he is not acting out of his own free will, and Luffy never retaliates against him instead taking every single hit.

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    • True. I was just up to that part of the manga when I wrote this. Been a long time since I read that other part. Still, I think they both count for the sake of the basic idea where they aren’t battling as true enemies.

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  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz on his Legends of Windemere blog with the topic: When Friends Fight in Fiction

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  6. I think that if you have a really tight team and it looks like the plot will be resolved too quickly, having a split like this is a way of slowing things down. Now not only are the teammates up against some menace, but they’re trying to repair their relationship. Or they aren’t working together at all, which allowed the antagonist(s) to push their own plans further.

    You mentioned Seven Deadly Sins, so I also want to point out how King and Diana were in love, but hadn’t confessed to each other. Just as they got their nerve up, King got amnesia and couldn’t remember who Diana was. Then, that was healed but Diana got amnesia and regressed to a childlike state! Talk about jerking characters around.

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    • That part of the story was a little frustrating. Diane got jerked around a bunch in season 3, but I guess the creator wanted to focus more on Meliodas. Starting to realize how many love stories are in that series.

      With the really tight team, that’s a hard one to break. I do find it off putting when a conflict comes up and feels like it was made solely for padding. The attempt falls flat if there wasn’t any previous tension.

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      • Almost as bad is when one member of a team is accused of some terrible crime, and their friends turn on them despite everything they’ve been through together. Of course, that forces the one character to suffer, but it still seems arbitrary. And it makes the other characters seem much smaller and more petty.

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      • Yeah. You really can’t have conflict in a group that’s been thick as thieves the entire time.

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  9. Bookwraiths says:

    I always think of Obi-wan and Anakin whenever this topic comes up. And not in a positive light, mind you. I felt Lucas didn’t build up to their split and death match correctly, leaving their final confrontation feeling forced and unnatural. Wish Lucas had read this list before writing the script. 🙂

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  10. This is actually very helpful to me with a story i am writing right now. Thanks!

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  11. jomz says:

    These are great tips.

    The weight of the battle is indeed greater felt when the ones fighting are really, really close. I also agree that the reason of their fight should be something deep.

    If they fight for something shallow – that better have been in their personality from the very start, or it will look very fake or forced, indeed.

    Men talk with their fists. I guess I have to agree with that. Hahaha…

    I also agree with your point that unless you want your close friend characters turn into enemies, their reason for fighting better be something that can be resolved.

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